Congressional Democrats slammed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on Wednesday for threatening to oppose an extension of the US’s ability to pay its bills, a step that could jeopardize the US’s economic recovery if Congress doesn’t act.
Sen. Ron Wyden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters that the national debt ballooned under President Donald Trump as a result of the pandemic and a 2017 Republican tax law that reduced the country’s tax revenue from large corporations. The debt grew $7 trillion under the Trump administration.
“Now Mitch McConnell wants to skip out on paying the bills, we are not going to let him do it. He’s not going to be able to hold the economy hostage,” Wyden said. “We are going to move this quick.”
Wyden said Democrats didn’t make political demands in exchange for supporting raising the debt ceiling while Trump was in office. He described McConnell’s move as “stallball.”
“Mitch McConnell is playing Russian roulette with this economy,” Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranked Democrat in the upper chamber, told reporters.
The Kentucky Republican said in an interview published on Punchbowl News on Monday that Republicans wouldn’t strike a deal with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling, the statutory limit that the federal government can borrow to pay its bills.
McConnell said Democrats would have to do it alone through reconciliation, a legislative track that only requires a majority vote and would therefore be feasible to pass without Republican support.
Wyden declined to answer Insider when asked if it would be difficult to get all 50 Senate Democrats onboard. Still, there were signs that the Biden administration had no intention of striking a deal with the GOP.
“We expect Congress to act in a timely manner to raise or suspend the debt ceiling, as they did three times on a broad bipartisan basis during the last administration,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday. Still, Democrats have not decided how to raise the debt ceiling only nine days before it expires.
“They have to decide what the strategy is, but I do think it’s going to be easy to get Democrats onboard,” Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, told Insider on Wednesday.
The US is scheduled to hit the debt ceiling limit on July 30, two years after it was last extended. But the Treasury Department has the ability to to pay off the US’s debt on its own for a limited time and head off a default with potentially catastrophic consequences for the economy.
Other Democrats simply shrugged off McConnell’s threat.
“‘Meh’ is my official response,” Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, a Democrat sponsoring a bill to abolish the debt ceiling, said in an interview. “Doesn’t matter, we’ll handle our business. This is something the Hill freaks out about every year or so. We will not negotiate over it, we will not concede anything and we won’t fail to do our job.
Senate Republicans voted Wednesday to oppose an infrastructure deal they struck with Biden.
They said they wouldn’t vote for an unfinished bill – but they’ll be prepared to do that on Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t thrown his backing behind the measure yet.
Senate Republicans voted against advancing the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal on Wednesday in an early vote. But a key faction called for more time and said they can support the same agreement in four days.
Republicans lined up to oppose the blueprint in a 49-51 vote on Wednesday afternoon. The measure fell short of the 60 votes needed to clear the chamber.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he went from a “yes” to a “no” only so he could bring up the measure again for another vote under Senate rules.
Still, Republican negotiators including Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Mitt Romney of Utah expressed confidence about supporting their plan on Monday once details on how to pay for it were ironed out.
The agreement contains $579 billion in fresh spending beyond what Congress has already approved focused on roads, bridges, and upgrading broadband connections. All five Republican negotiators voted against kicking off debate on the agreement they had struck with President Joe Biden last month.
It comes days after the bipartisan group jettisoned $40 billion in extra IRS funding in the bipartisan deal, as it had triggered a backlash among conservatives alarmed about the possibility of overreach by the agency.
The GOP maneuver represents a stark contrast with their Obamacare repeal efforts in 2017. At the time, most Senate Republicans voted to advance an incomplete “skinny repeal” blueprint of the Affordable Care Act, a major Republican priority. But the late Sen. John McCain ultimately cast the pivotal vote that torpedoed that effort, with an infamous thumbs-down vote.
Romney told reporters before the vote that it’ll be some time before a full infrastructure bill is drafted. “We won’t have a complete text, that’s going to take quite a while,” he said. “We’ll have elements that are written but many that are not.”
He said the bipartisan group is aiming to be fully agreed upon “the major issues” by Monday. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, a Democrat in the talks, told reporters the group would continue fleshing out the deal by phone on Wednesday evening.
The bipartisan group put out a statement shortly after the Wednesday afternoon vote. “We have made significant progress and are close to a final agreement,” the senators said, adding they want to broker a deal “in the coming days.”
Progressives are losing patience with the slow pace of bipartisan talks. Democrats including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have argued for several weeks that the GOP has been given plenty of time to come onboard and warn that Republicans are attempting to only delay Democratic efforts.
“Democrats have kept the door open to Republicans for months now on infrastructure,” Warren told Insider on Tuesday. “Republicans cannot be allowed to delay progress any longer. I hope Republicans will be part of this, they’ve been given every accommodation, but it’s time to move.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham on Sunday suggested that Senate Republicans could grind the upper chamber to halt to by denying Democrats a quorum to pass a possible $3.5 trillion infrastructure package through the budget reconciliation process.
During an interview with host Maria Bartiromo on the Fox News program “Sunday Morning Futures,” the South Carolina Republican floated the idea of skipping town to block a Democratic bill, making a reference to Texas House Democrats, who left the state to deny Republicans a quorum on a restrictive voting bill that they fervently oppose.
A bipartisan group of senators last month struck a tentative deal with the White House for a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure package that focuses on roads and bridges.
However, Democrats are also seeking to pass a separate infrastructure package, which would feature other infrastructure priorities focused on childcare, clean energy, and education.
Last Wednesday, Senate Democrats reached an agreement on a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, which, if passed and signed into law, would be a heralding achievement for Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the chairman of the Budget Committee.
“This is the most significant piece of legislation passed since the Great Depression, and I’m delighted to be part of having helped to put it together,” he said at the time.
Passing a bill through the reconciliation process only requires a simple majority, and with Democrats holding 50 Senate seats, Vice President Kamala Harris would be the pivotal tiebreaking vote.
Graham scoffed at the Democratic party-line bill and vowed to block its passage.
“As for the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, designed to pass without a single Republican vote, [Sen.] Joe Manchin [of West Virginia] says that has to be paid for,” he said. “The only way you can do that is through a massive tax increase. The reconciliation package is not infrastructure. It’s big government. All kinds of new social programs unrelated to infrastructure. We’ll see if they can get Democratic support.”
He added: “If for some reason, they pass the budget resolution to bring that [$3.5 trillion] bill to the floor of the United States Senate … You gotta have a quorum to pass a bill in the Senate. I would leave before I’d let that happen. So, to my Republican colleagues, we may learn something from our Democratic friends in Texas when it comes to avoiding a $3.5 trillion tax-and-spend package. Leave town.”
“Hey Vice President Harris, if you think these people are heroes, well I expect you to come and pat us on the back,” he said. “Hell yeah, I would leave. I will use everything lawfully in my toolbox to prevent rampant inflation. If it takes me not showing up to stop that, I will do it because if we pass that bill, you’re going to have inflation through the roof.”
The Constitution mandates a a quorum of 51 senators to be present for the Senate to conduct official business. Since the chamber is split 50-50, all Republican senators would have to sign on to Graham’s proposal for the plan to work.
So far, no other Republicans have taken such a stance.
America’s neglected social safety net could be getting its largest patch in a generation on Thursday, when the US begins a year-long experiment providing a guaranteed income for families with children. Its success will determine whether it becomes a permanent fixture.
The Internal Revenue Service is poised to send the first batch of monthly child tax credit payments stemming from President Joe Biden’s stimulus law, which was approved in March over united Republican opposition. For six months, families can get a $300 monthly benefit per child age 5 and under, amounting to $3,600 this year. The measure provides $250 each month per kid age 6 and 17, totaling $3,000. Half of the benefit will come as a tax refund.
If all goes to plan, the federal government will deposit cash directly into the bank accounts of 36.2 million families, according to projections from administration officials shared with reporters on Wednesday evening. That represents the bulk of the 39 million families the IRS has identified as being eligible for the child allowance.
Experts say the one-year child tax credit payments could shift public attitudes on cash benefits given its wide reach and mark a big step forward in slashing child poverty – some estimate it could be cut by up to half.
“It’s hard to understate the significance of this expansion for child poverty in America,” Samuel Hammond, a welfare policy expert at the center-right Niskanen Center, told Insider. “Most countries have some form of child or family allowance – and the US has been an outlier in excluding the lowest income households from our version of a child benefit,” he said, adding “once you start on this path, it’s hard to turn back.”
Some Democrats are already drawing comparisons between the program and the birth of Social Security in 1935, a milestone that set up a critical source of income for retired and disabled Americans.
“It’s the most transformative policy coming out of Washington since the days of FDR,” Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey recently told The New York Times.
‘Some bumps in the road’
Democratic lawmakers and Congressional aides have labored behind the scenes to ensure a smooth rollout of the payments. The child tax credit was revamped to include low-income families not required to file taxes, a group previously shut out from tapping into the benefit.
There were some signs of problems early on. Some experts and community groups raised concern that an IRS portal to sign up the poorest families was too complex and inaccessible for people who lacked desktop computers.
Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, an architect of the measure, said on Monday the IRS has given the child tax credit “100% of their attention” and said he’s regularly communicated with the agency.
Still, he cautioned there could still be some snags. The pandemic has added to the IRS’s responsibilities over the past year and strained its depleted staff. It has gone from being a tax-collecting agency to a benefit distributor on par with the Social Security Administration.
“I’m sure there will be some bumps in the road as there always are when rolling out something new like this,” he told reporters. “But it’s important as bumps arise to iron them out.”
Some of those potential problems, Bennet told Insider, include “people not getting the benefit they were supposed to receive and accounting issues that might arise. I hope they won’t be systemic issues, I don’t think they will be.”
The IRS has struggled sorting through a massive backlog of tax returns in recent months, delaying tax refunds in at least some cases. Hammond said it was unclear whether distributing monthly child benefits via the IRS is “sustainable in the long run.”
“We’ve increasingly asked the IRS to do an awful lot of social policy beyond taxing and collecting revenues, and the IRS is just not equipped to be a benefits administrator,” he said.
The future of Biden’s child allowance
The bulked-up child tax credit is a rare measure that enjoys deep support among both House and Senate Democrats. Bennet, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Suzan DelBene of Washington, are among the lawmakers spearheading efforts to make it permanent.
Biden proposed in his spending plans to extend the bulked-up benefit until 2025, the same year that Trump-era tax cuts for individuals end. It’s possible Republicans could trade support to renew the pair of benefits, given the GOP is generally opposed to cash aid as a standalone measure.
“I think we should embrace allowing people to keep more of their own money, if we’re applying it towards their payroll tax,” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida told Insider last month. Rubio and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah led efforts to double the size of the child tax credit in the 2017 Republican tax law. The pair favor boosting the benefit amount for workers.
On Wednesday, Rubio released a statement tearing into the child allowance. “The way President Biden tells it, the handout is part of his administration’s ‘pro-family’ plan,” he said. In reality, he has transformed the pro-worker, pro-family Child Tax Credit into an anti-work welfare check.”
Senate Democrats are kicking off a flurry of negotiations to finalize what measures will ultimately be included in a $3.5 trillion budget deal that would mostly be paid for with tax increases. They’ll advance it in a pathway known as reconciliation, which allows them to approve certain bills with a simple majority instead of a filibuster-proof 60 votes. Every Democrat must stick together for the budget package to clear the Senate.
Brown, the Banking Committee chairman, said talks were in their early stages so no child allowance expiration date was set. “Not clear what year yet, but it’s going to be a popular program like Social Security,” he told Insider on Wednesday. “Republicans will not only be afraid to take it away, they’ll start taking credit for it.”
He also suggested its hefty price tag could keep a permanent extension out: “I think its so costly it may not [be included], but I’m still fighting for permanence,” he said.
Brown also rejected the notion of changing the income thresholds. “I think that’s pretty locked in. We’ve all been talking about how important that is, 90% of the public getting this is really consequential and key to its popularity,” he told Insider.
Some Democratic moderates may balk at renewing the child tax credit in its current state. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a swing vote, told Insider he was open to a permanent extension last month. Others are undecided on the program’s fate.
“I consider it not an easy issue,” Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said in an interview. “It is a major expansion of what amounts to an entitlement program. I certainly supported it as part of the pandemic relief package. But supporting it on a permanent basis is something that I have to have more data on and understand how it’ll be paid for.”
Senate Republicans are mostly keeping their cards close to the vest when it comes to the $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure agreement.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t thrown his support behind the package yet, even though it was negotiated by a handful of Senate Republicans that included Mitt Romney if Utah and Susan Collins of Maine. The framework is concentrated on physical items like roads and bridges. It also contains funding for broadband internet, a major priority for both parties.
There doesn’t appear to be a lot of enthusiasm among Republicans to back the agreement yet, which could partly stem from the fact that negotiators are still turning the blueprint into a formal bill. Democrats are pressing to finalize the details this week, but Republicans say a bill won’t be ready until next week.
A total of 11 GOP senators signed onto the bipartisan agreement, which would be enough for the plan to clear the 60-vote threshold if every Democratic senator voted for it as well.
But some have signaled they could withdraw their support given that Democrats are poised to advance a separate $3.5 trillion party-line package through reconciliation in the coming weeks. That legislative pathway requires Democrats to stick together in an evenly-divided Senate over united Republican opposition – and both measures would be approved on parallel tracks.
‘This deal is troublesome to me,” said Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, a GOP sponsor, on Wednesday.
Others say they don’t want the bipartisan deal’s fate to be tied to the Democrat-only plan. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has insisted the House will only approve a bipartisan bill once the Senate clears a party-line infrastructure bill. “They certainly can’t be connected,” Sen. Lindsay Graham, another Republican sponsor, told reporters on Wednesday.
Republicans have also started criticizing the funding mechanisms, potentially making it harder for more Republicans to support an agreement.
Some experts are skeptical that the funding provisions of the bipartisan deal – which include repurposing coronavirus relief funds and unspent federal unemployment aid – will fully pay for itself. Howard Gleckman, a tax expert at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, called it “pixie dust” in a recent blog post.
The GOP is seizing on that given their opposition to growing the national debt. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said in a Tuesday interview that Republicans want “just to make sure the pay-fors are responsible, actually real and not illusory,” he said.
Sen. John Thune, the second-ranked Senate Republican, told reporters on Tuesday that a plan that’s fully paid for would be a “prerequisite for a lot of Republicans to support it.”
Bipartisan negotiations on a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure package are poised to stretch into next week as lawmakers struggle to resolve key disagreements on how to finance it.
Democrats are pushing for a multitrillion-dollar package that would provide cash benefits to parents and set up universal pre-K, along with upgrades to roads and bridges – all paid for with tax increases on rich Americans and large firms.
But Senate Republicans are starting to believe that striking a deal with President Joe Biden on an infrastructure plan could torch the rest of his economic agenda, particularly some of those tax hikes and his planned social initiatives.
“I think if we can agree on an infrastructure package that’s paid for, we should,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told Insider. “But the Democrats want to do more on what I would call non-infrastructure and I assume they’ll try and do that in reconciliation.”
He went on: “The biggest challenge they have right now is not Republicans, it’s Democrats disagreeing on the use of reconciliation for that purpose.”
At least one senior Republican shared the assessment that Democrats’ use of the party-line approach could face a rocky path ahead, as all 50 Democrats in the Senate would have to remain united on a separate plan.
“It’ll be awful hard to get those moderate Democrats to be for that,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranked Senate Republican, told reporters on Monday. “The stars are kind of lining up for an infrastructure bill. And if you do do something bipartisan on that, then I think doing something partisan on reconciliation – in some ways, with certain Democrats – it gets a lot harder.”
Progressives are pushing for Democrats to scrap the talks so a massive package can be approved without Republican support. In an interview with Insider last month, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York singled out national paid leave and affordable childcare as the pair of initiatives most at jeopardy of being dropped from the talks entirely.
Those liberals are at odds with centrist-leaning Democrats who want the discussions to continue. Some have already expressed unease with Biden’s tax hikes on the rich to finance new programs – which could potentially cut the scope of a follow-up package. Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Bob Menendez favor scaling back Biden’s tax increase on capital gains, Politico reported.
“I know there needs to be reconciliation,” Warner told reporters on Thursday. “But that also doesn’t mean that I accept all of what the president has proposed.”
Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a key Biden ally in Congress, said he favors striking a deal with Republicans if possible, but he also backs a separate party-line bill which he acknowledged has no margin of error.
“I am equally determined to move ahead with a reconciliation package that will delivers on Biden’s boldest policy proposals and I think it is possible for us to do both,” he said in a recent interview. “But it’s going to take a lot of coordination in our Democratic caucus.”
White House officials are indicating to congressional Democrats that they’re giving bipartisan infrastructure negotiations until the end of June before potentially shoving Republicans aside and moving ahead with a Democratic-only plan.
It’s a fresh sign that the Biden administration’s patience is starting to wear thin at the slow pace of economic talks with the GOP. More than two months of back-and-forth discussions haven’t yielded a major breakthrough.
“They’re giving it a week or 10 days more and that’s about it,” House Budget chair John Yarmuth told reporters on Tuesday. “Then we move along with with reconciliation – for everything.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reconciliation, the legislative tactic that only requires a simple majority to pass certain bills, is increasingly favored by progressive Democrats, who want to combine President Joe Biden’s two-part plan into a massive $4 trillion bill and muscle it through both the House and Senate with only Democratic votes.
Many on the left fear Biden’s social spending proposals – such as paid family leave and universal pre-K – would not draw strong support from Democratic centrists in the Senate, and derail that part of the plan. But Biden is pursuing a deal and the White House is giving additional time for an agreement to be struck.
A bipartisan group encompassing 10 lawmakers from both parties is still drafting a nearly $1 trillion infrastructure plan, though key details remain unclear. It includes Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Rob Portman of Ohio, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Susan Collins of Maine.
The Democratic side comprises Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Warner of Virginia, and Jon Tester of Montana.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has come out in opposition to the emerging framework, saying its sources of revenue were not progressive enough. The group is eyeing indexing the gas tax to inflation, which may increase gas prices for average people, and repurposing stimulus funds from states.
“I wouldn’t vote for it,” Sanders told reporters on Monday. “The bottom line is there are a lot of needs facing this country. Now is the time to address those needs, and it has to be paid for in a progressive way, given the fact that we have massive income and wealth inequality in America.”
Other Democrats such as Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, and Jeff Merkley of Oregon are coming out against a plan that doesn’t contain aggressive measures to combat climate change.
“Put me down as skeptical of these theories that somehow you get everything you want, and somehow the priorities I have might be addressed down the road,” Wyden said Wednesday. Every lost Democratic vote means an additional Republican would be needed for the plan to clear the chamber – with a bare minimum of 10 GOP votes
Others are reserving judgment until more details emerge. “I got to look at it first,” Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia told Insider.
“I want to see it, how are the Republicans gonna pay for it?” Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, chair of the Banking Committee, told Insider. “I’ll see it, I don’t know yet.”
With negotiations on a major infrastructure package likely to stretch into June, the White House is poised to blow past its self-imposed Memorial Day deadline, which was meant to ensure significant progress on a bipartisan plan.
Senate Republicans led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) are preparing to make a $1 trillion offer as soon as Thursday. Another bipartisan group of six senators that includes Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Me.) are preparing another offer to President Joe Biden in case those talks stall.
Manchin is insisting on more time to secure a deal, saying on Tuesday “this is the long game, not a short game.” The White House want to approve a multi-trillion spending package to upgrade roads and bridges, in addition to setting up universal pre-K, tuition-free community college, and cash payments to families.
But some Democrats doubt Republicans’ genuine interest in giving Biden a bipartisan victory and are wary of the ongoing talks turning into a time-consuming dud. They cite huge differences that remain to be bridged on the size, scope, and basic definition of infrastructure. Democrats are anxious to shepherd along new economic programs using their thin majorities in the House and evenly divided Senate.
Their potential to drag into the summer is prompting comparisons to negotiations over a decade ago between President Barack Obama and Republicans on overhauling the healthcare system.
“When I read the comments from Sen. Manchin asking for more time, all of a sudden I had bad flashbacks to Obamacare where there was a push and pull between the desire for more time and the reality that Republicans were never going for it,” Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), told Insider.
Max Baucus, a former Democratic senator and one of the architects of Obamacare, said in an interview he was getting “somewhat” a case of déjà vu seeing the infrastructure discussions unfold.
“I’d keep pushing forward as hard as I could, but there’s not much time left. I’d give it a month or so and then tell Schumer to push reconciliation,” the former Montana lawmaker said, referring to a legislative tactic available to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to approve some bills with only a simple Senate majority.
“I doubt you’re going to see much bipartisanship in the end”
In 2009, the Obama administration chased support from a bloc of moderate GOP senators for the plan that became the Affordable Care Act. As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus spent five months trying to draw backing from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking Republican on the panel, for a more “durable” health law.
That effort collapsed amid sharp disagreements on tax increases and whether Americans should be obligated to buy health insurance. Republicans stepped up their attacks and cast the healthcare bill as federal overreach, with Grassley falsely warning of the government “pulling the plug on grandma” at an Iowa town hall that August.
Anger over how voters perceived Obamacare contributed to major Republican victories in the 2010 midterms, one that lost the House for Democrats and effectively crippled the next six years of Obama’s legislative agenda. Now, Baucus sees his experience as a cautionary tale as Democrats attempt to forge ahead with a massive two-part package to reconfigure the economy with new spending on physical infrastructure, healthcare, and education.
“I doubt you’re going to see much bipartisanship in the end. Frankly, a lot of Republicans would rather not see a bipartisan bill,” Baucus told Insider. “They say they would, but deep down they don’t.”
Baucus said he believes next year’s midterms are already factoring into the negotiations, in the sense that a party-line reconciliation bill from Democrats would almost surely include tax hikes on the wealthy and large firms, and a lot of Republicans “are going to run against those tax increases in 2022.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in an interview he was “very concerned” about Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s endgame on infrastructure, pointing to his recent comment about being “100% focused” on thwarting the Biden administration. The GOP leader also made similar remarks early on in the Obama administration.
“I’m always going to try and get a bipartisan approach, but it’s certainly a bigger lift after a statement like that,” he said.
Yet other Democrats like Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said they weren’t troubled by the state of the discussions. “I think we’re on the timeframe that I always thought we’d be on,” he told Insider. “Thus far, it’s soliciting their opinions.”
Kaine continued: “Even if we go reconciliation, we will put things in that bill that will be extremely attractive to Republican governors, to Republican mayors, to Republican interest groups.” He said he thought it was possible for Democrats to “pick up votes we weren’t expecting.”
The White House used reconciliation to approve a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill in March. Biden met with Senate Republicans once in early February in a bid to broker a deal. But he ultimately abandoned those talks by the end of the month after they only put $618 billion on the table. No GOP lawmakers voted for the Biden stimulus law.
There are signs that Democratic leaders are loathe to avoid watering down bills for the veneer of bipartisanship. “Look at 200 where we spent a year and a half trying to get something good done, ACA, Obamacare, and we didn’t do all the other things that had to be done,” Schumer said on MSNBC in late January. “We will not repeat that mistake.”
Schumer told reporters on Tuesday that Democrats will move ahead with a “big bold plan” in July, suggesting reconciliation looms in the near future. Still, Capito said her GOP group would “not walk away” from the negotiating table anytime soon.
“I think you go as far as you can, but then there comes a time where the other side is just not seemingly negotiating in good faith, so you gotta stop and pass your own bill,” said Baucus.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday said that bipartisan legislation that would create a January 6 commission to examine the Capitol riot was a “purely political exercise” driven by Democrats.
The Kentucky Republican, who announced his opposition to the commission on the Senate floor last week, calling it a “slanted and unbalanced proposal,” accused Democrats of wanting to use a commission to attack former President Donald Trump.
“I think at the heart of this recommendation by the Democrats is that they would like to continue to debate things that occured in the past,” McConnell said. “They would to continue to litigate the former president into the future. We think the American people going forward, and in the fall of 2022, ought to focus on what this administration is doing to the country and what the clear choice is that we have made to oppose most of these initiatives.”
He added: “I think this is a purely political exercise that adds nothing to the sum total of information.”
The GOP resistance to a 9/11-style commission examining the deadly insurrection at the Capitol imperils a deeper investigation into the siege, along with recommendations on how it can be prevented from occurring again.
Last week, after weeks of negotiations, the House passed the bill in a 252-175 vote, with 35 Republicans joining Democrats to support the legislation despite vocal opposition from House GOP leadership, led by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York is planning to force a vote on the legislation in the coming days or weeks, but with only 50 seats, Democrats would still need 10 GOP votes to overcome a legislative filibuster.
So far, Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are the only Republican lawmakers in the upper chamber who have indicated support for the bill.
Senate GOP leadership has steadfastly lined up against the legislation.
In addition to McConnell’s opposition, Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota told CNN last week that a commission could undermine the GOP as it looks to next year’s midterm elections.
“I want our midterm message to be on the kinds of things that the American people are dealing with: That’s jobs and wages and the economy and national security, safe streets and strong borders – not relitigating the 2020 elections,” he said. “A lot of our members, and I think this is true of a lot of House Republicans, want to be moving forward and not looking backward.”
Trump, who in January was impeached for his role in the riot, chimed in last week to express his opposition to any future probes.
“Republicans in the House and Senate should not approve the Democrat trap of the January 6 Commission,” he said in a statement. “Republicans must get much tougher and much smarter, and stop being used by the Radical Left.”
Infrastructure talks are starting to gain momentum in Congress two weeks after President Joe Biden rolled out his sprawling $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.
A Republican-led group of 20 lawmakers is gearing up to make a counteroffer in a bid to strike a bipartisan deal on a smaller package. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia floated one this week in the range of $600 billion to $800 billion. But there are fresh signs of discord among Republicans on the price tag and it’s far from settled.
The sole factor binding them together is opposition to Biden’s corporate tax hike. Capito called it a “non-negotiable red line,” and other Republicans like Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Susan Collins of Maine agreed they wouldn’t budge.
Instead, they are suggesting potential “user-fees,” a set of charges levied on the users of a federal service or good, such as raising the federal gas tax. User-fees have the support from the Chamber of Commerce, a powerful business group.
“My own view is that the pay-for ought to come from people who are using it. So if it’s an airport, the people who are flying,” Sen. Mitt Romney told reporters on Wednesday. “If it’s a port, the people who are shipping into the port; if it’s a rail system, the people who are using the rails; If it’s highways, it ought to be gas if it’s a gasoline-powered vehicle.”
That could shift the financial burden of an infrastructure overhaul from companies onto people, Kevin DeGood, an infrastructure expert at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, told Insider. It has triggered intense resistance among Democrats.
“If the Republican position is that we’re going only going to do this by raising the gas tax and we won’t accept an additional penny of corporate revenue, that won’t be something our caucus can get behind,” a Senate Democratic aide granted anonymity to speak candidly said.
Pressing Republicans to roll back Trump tax cuts is like urging Democrats to repeal Obamacare
The US generally funds infrastructure – encompassing roads, highways, and public transit like commuter rail – through a blend of state and federal funding. Only about a quarter of spending on transportation and water projects stems from the federal government now, per the Congressional Budget Office.
That’s down from a peak of 38% in 1977, leaving state and local governments to pick up more of the tab in recent decades. Biden’s last two predecessors urged more infrastructure spending. Former President Barack Obama sought to close corporate tax loopholes to repair roads, bridges, and tunnels in a jobs plan, but Republicans lined up against it.
Then former President Donald Trump pitched $1 trillion in new infrastructure spending during his 2016 campaign. Several efforts at a bipartisan package collapsed throughout his four years in office.
Now, a five-year highway funding bill expires in September, providing lawmakers with something close to a deadline to get their public-works priorities through Congress. Clashes are intensifying between Democrats urging tax hikes on corporations and high-earners, and Republicans pushing new fees on individuals.
Biden wants to raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, a partial repeal of Trump’s 2017 tax law. Brian Riedl, a budget expert at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, said Republicans were unlikely to support rolling back their biggest economic achievement of the past decade.
“Republicans worked extraordinarily hard to enact a major rewrite of the tax code,” Riedl told Insider. “They’re not going to reverse their signature policy to pay for Joe Biden’s spending. That’s like asking Democrats to repeal Obamacare to pay for a Republican tax cut.”
He outlined a potential plan that would include repurposing unspent emergency stimulus funds to state and local governments, and moving federal money around in the annual budget.
Republicans floated a gasoline tax or a vehicle mileage tax on electric vehicles to finance infrastructure in lieu of business tax hikes. The federal gas tax hasn’t been lifted since 1993, and a vehicle miles-traveled tax has never been implemented at the federal level. Only two states have it in place, The Washington Post reported.
Business groups favor spending on roads and bridges, but don’t want to pay for it
Business groups generally want infrastructure spending, though targeted in scope. The Business Roundtable supports up to $1.5 trillion “to return US physical infrastructure to a state of good repair.”
“There are clear benefits to business from additional infrastructure investing, but we also think it’s unfair to ask business to shoulder or cover all of the additional costs of this public infrastructure investment,” Brendan Bechtel, a leading figure in the Business Roundtable, told CNBC on Wednesday.
But experts say there is simply not enough to be raised through charging new fees on drivers or other types of road taxes. “User-fees are not going to be sufficient and there are sectors that don’t have them,” DeGood told Insider. “For example, the Biden administration wants to put money into electrical transmission.”
Republicans are indicating they will favor a package that’s narrowly tailored to address roads, bridges, ports and other physical infrastructure. One Republican aide argued Democrats swelled the size of their plan, dampening the odds of a deal.
“I think this is going to turn into a slush fund for priorities for important constituencies and important members,” the aide said. “You’re going to get a much better work product if you have Republican senators involved in this. It will give it more longevity.”
Still, some Democrats such as Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said it may be possible to split off elements of Biden’s plan and strike a $1 trillion bipartisan agreement, giving Democrats space to push through the rest using budget reconciliation in a party-line vote. GOP lawmakers wouldn’t be likely to endorse that, according to Riedl.
“Republicans aren’t gonna allow themselves to be chumps like that,” Riedl said.”They won’t give bipartisan cover to a process that will run them over in the end using reconciliation.”